Many alternative forage options are widely available
By Jonathan Long
CONSIDER every available option when securing suitable forage for housed sheep, advises ADAS senior consultant David Morris.
"Flockmasters need to consider alternative forages, such as cereal straw, pea haulm or thrashed hay this winter because a wet summer has left many units with stocks of poor quality hay and silage," says Mr Morris.
"Hay and silage will be available in quantity, but quality may be poor – so analyse them to ensure they are balanced with sufficient protein.
"No matter what forage choice is made, assessing forage quality early will ensure ewes are fed a concentrate with sufficient protein and energy to maintain them both pre and post-lambing."
Producers should be aware that much of this years silage will have a low dry matter content, says John Crimes of Promar. He is concerned this will leave flocks short of forage towards the end of winter.
"Ewes will need to receive adequate nutrition to ensure that conditions such as pregnancy toxemia can be avoided.
"This means that flockmasters will need to reassess the concentrate they feed this winter because many will have previously fed rations suitable for hay- based diets and this year will be feeding silage or perhaps straw."
Liquid feeds and feed blocks can offer a boost to ewe intakes while improving palatability and energy content of straw-based diets.
But they may not be a complete alternative to concentrate feeds, because many do not contain a full balance of minerals, he says.
Mr Morris does not dismiss feeding straw to housed sheep, but a lack of available straw in many livestock areas means money could be better spent on high quality concentrates.
"With feed wheat as low as £55/t this harvest, it may be better to buy in extra concentrate to balance low quality forages."
Mr Crimes also highlights an increase in the availability of distillery by-products this year, as an alternative source of protein.
"There is a large quantity of brewers grains and other by-products on the market. These will provide many flockmasters with a relatively cheap feed source,"
Achieving good ewe condition this autumn should be easier than in previous years, too, because continued summer grass growth has allowed ewes to build condition after lambing, according to Mr Morris.
If these growing conditions ex-tend into autumn, there could be enough grass to ensure ewes build up reserves pre-housing. *